Kahne starts strong for Petty, Dodge

Kahne starts strong for Petty, Dodge THIS WEEK IN NASCAR

With a new team and a new outlook this season, Kasey Kahne is off to a great start with the newly combined Richard Petty Motorsports. And after the first seven races of the Sprint Cup season, Kahne raced back into the top-12 standings (10 th after Texas) and after a good showing in Atlanta. “We had a good race. We got behind on that one deal early in the race there on pit road, and it took us a long time to get our lap back,” Kahne said. “We actually ran second to Kurt [Busch] one lap down for over 100 laps in the race. We finally got it [lap] back and ended up with seventh, which I think was pretty good. I think that we were more of a fourth- or fifth-place car on a long run and probably seventh early in the run. It worked out good for us. I’m real happy with where our points are right now.” Kahne says he’s benefited from Petty’s work ethic already this season. “He’s an icon. Now that he hangs out there and is part of our teams, it’s exciting and fun. It gives everybody a good attitude.” Kahne’s landed in the top five once, top 12 twice and has averaged about a 14.6 finish. Kyle Busch and Kahne have become Dodge’s top cars at this point in the season. All of the manufacturer’s cars are running with the long-awaited R6 engine. “I think that the biggest thing is that it shows the Dodge teams that, hey, these cars can go fast. I think Kurt [Busch] is showing that. … I feel like the Dodges did a real good job of making gains. We have a ways to go, but we definitely did a good job up to this point.” With Phoenix ahead — a track Kahne has not run well at with only one top-five finish and three top-10s in nine races — the driver says the good weather will add to great conditions for a good race. “To me, it’s a neat place to go [race]. We haven’t run that well there,” he said. “We’ve kind of been up-and-down there it seems like. … Early on [in my career] I did [in 2004]. Since then, I haven’t, and I need to step it up there and figure out how to go fast there.” Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_ Copyright 2009 King Features Syndicate